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Holy Trinity Parish - Eire PA

A parish history from the 1941 New Church Dedication Book

Old residents of St. Joseph parish relate from hearsay, that as early as the 1850's there were some Polish families, who settled at the important junction of the Pittsburgh-Buffalo Turnpike, a section of the city which is now known as South Erie, but then was called Eagle Village. It was in reference to these early Polish settlers, that the colonists of the 1870's referred as "American Poles." There are Polish names found in the news publications in the city of Erie even before this early era. However, the first Polish settlers. who retained their characteristic Polish customs, and maintained their language and individuality settled on the East Side, with the coming of such well known families as the Mendlewski, Gapski, Trojanowski, and Glowacki. Andrew Mendlewski came to Erie in 1868; Carl Gapski in 1869; Glowacki and Trojanowski somewhat later.

It is at this time in the history of the Polish Nation that a great migration had its beginning. The Poles are a people attached to their soil and only a social cataclysm, like the uprising of 1863, could drive them away from their cherished homesteads. In 1792, a final partition of Poland erased this country from the maps of Europe. Poland was divided among three powers - Russia. Germany, and Austria. To make the conquest of this territory complete, the conquering nations realized that they must obliterate not only the contours of a map, but the Polish language, customs, and even the spirit of the Polish people. To accomplish this purpose, the three powers did not spare any means, no matter how unjust or barbaric, in their efforts. The Poles were subjected to severe persecutions; their properties were confiscated in mock trials for the slightest offenses; religious and educational instructions were forbidden in their native tongue; provinces were expatriated, and exile to the barren wastes of Siberia was a popular political penalty much too common. The Poles survived all these, always hoping that God will deliver them from the injustices of their enemies. In 1863, an uprising which assumed a scale of revolution goaded the Polish people to make a supreme bid for liberty. This bloody uprising, however, was promptly suppressed; the spirit of hope, which the Poles entertained, was shattered; the political persecutions which followed filled the hearts of the Polish people with fear and despair. Many fled from their native country and sought refuge as exiles in foreign lands, many migrated to the Americas. which were then heralded as homes for refuge to downtrodden peoples. Within the next two score years, three and one half million of Poles, or about ten per cent of the Polish population migrated to the United States.

It was this migration, which established a Polish settlement in the city of Erie. Presently there are some twenty thousand Poles in Eric and its immediate vicinity. Already in 1882, there were some eighty Polish families settled in Erie. The need of a Polish priest was acute. To satisfy their Easter duty the Poles invited Rev. John Pitass of Buffalo, N. Y., and occasionally other priests from Cleveland and Dunkirk, to minister to their needs. In December of 1883, Bishop Tobias Mullen engaged the service of a Benedictine Father, Carl Lanz. On arrival he found eighty-eight Polish families organized under the chairmanship of Carl Gapski and they have already collected the sum of $1,888.00 to found a parish and build a church. The money was deposited in the Chancery. During his stay Father Lanz encouraged the people to continue in their noble effort and personally aided Gapski in making collections. In the fall of 1884 the building of the first Polish church was realized, but it was not completed until the fall of 1885. It was dedicated as St. Stanislaus Church on November 11, 1885. The first three pastors. each assigned for a short period of time, were Benedictine Fathers. In September of 1886 Rev. Andrew Ignasiak was appointed the first secular pastor of this parish. So rapid was the increase of Polish population in Erie that within five years this building was too small to accommodate the congregation.

Isolated by a difficulty to master the English language and united by their beautiful national and religious customs, the first settlers from Poland adjusted their social life by participating actively in church and patriotic organizations. Church societies devoted exclusively to parish work were numerous. National fraternities, sick benefits, dramatic clubs, and patriotic organizations were an essential part of every Polish parish. One such society among others organized on October 10, 1892, for the purpose of fostering patriotic ideals, adopted the name of Poland's greatest hero. General Thaddeus Kosciuszko, and entrusted its guidance to the loving care of Our Lady of Czestochowa. By 1894 this society had a membership of eighty. The final date of independent societies, no matter how strongly organized, leads frequently to dissension and dissolution. In order to avoid a similar fate the society of General Kosciuszko aligned itself with a very powerful national organization, the Polish National Alliance of America. and obtained a charter as group 224 of the Polish National Alliance. As early as 1892, the acute increase of Polish population in the City of Erie, which even before this time rendered the first Polish church too small to accommodate that another parish was necessary. It was not until 1895, however, that Thaddeus Kosciuszko assumed the first active role in the founding question and selected a committee to call on Bishop Tobias Mullen to present their views and their petition. During this interview Bishop Mullen was very favorable to the new project, and further encouraged the committee to select a site for their new church. However, a few days later Bishop Mullen retracted his instruction, because, as he pointed out, Father Ignasiak proposed the building of a new church to cost $60.000.00, and any division of his parish at this time would be detrimental financially to the Polish people. In obedience to the Bishop's recommendations the supporters of a new parish desisted from further action.

The new church was not completed until 1898. Now the school was found to be by far too small. In 1900 there were 503 children in attendance. In the Spring of 1901 foundations were laid for a new school. At this time there were 800 Polish families in Erie. The proponents of a new parish again maintained that another parish is a necessity. The Thaddeus Kosciuszko Society raised again the question of founding a new parish at a meeting held by the society on August 12, 1902. A special meeting was called for October 5th. At this meeting a committee consisting of Mr. Adalbert Skibinski, Mr. Anthony Donikowski, Mr. John Czarnecki, Mr. Francis Nowak, Mr. John Nowak, and Mr. John Kubeja, were instructed to present a petition to the new Bishop, Most Rev. John Fitzmaurice. The committee was instructed at this meeting to select a site for the new church, and present such to the Bishop. At a meeting held on the 12th of October the committee reported that six lots could be obtained on the corner of 22nd and Reed Streets, the present site of Holy Trinity Parish. On Thursday of that week the committee called on Bishop John Fitzmaurice, and after explaining the real need of another Polish parish, presented the choice of property. The Bishop requested the signatures of all those who wished to belong to the new church, expressed his opinion that the choice of property was excellent, and asked the committee to call after he could deliberate the problem.

Meantime, the Committee had to make a decision to purchase the six lots, each 40x165 feet for the sum of $4,320.00. At a meeting on the 16th of November the Society voted to purchase these lots. Mr. Isadore Masarek was elected to be the seventh member of the Committee. When this Committee called upon Bishop Fitzmaurice. the Bishop requested that the Committee refrain from actual building until the Spring of 1903. Furthermore, the Bishop explained that a title to church property must be entrusted to the Bishop, who holds the same in the name of the diocese. The Committee promised that it is the intention of the Society to give a clear title to all church property as soon as the actual building of the church is completed. As on former occasions they acceded to all the requests made by the Bishop.

Meantime, a fortunate occurrence, simplified the actual work of constructing church, St. John's parish just completed their new stone edifice. The Committee called on Rt. Rev. Msgr. Decker to determine what arrangements could be made to purchase the old structure. His willingness to cooperate with the founding of this new parish was evidenced by the fact that he made available the purchase of St. John's church with all its necessary equipment, including the pews, altars, bell, and many furnishings, for the trivial sum of $500.00. This money was advanced by Isidore Masarek and the deal was completed on June 22, 1903. A stone foundation was laid, the church was moved, redecorated within and outside, an organ was purchased, a new roof laid, and for the sum of $3.062.91 the First Holy Trinity Church was completed. The complete cost of the property and church was $7,702.91. The Committee advanced $2,330.61, some money was raised by holding social functions, and the remaining debt was transferred to four lots. Thus a clear deed could be issued to the land and the church. and this deed was presented to the Bishop.

On December 6, 1903, Most Rev. Bishop Fitzmaurice dedicated the Holy Trinity Church. He appointed Rev. Andrew Ignasiak to celebrate the dedicatory Mass. During a short discourse the Bishop congratulated the congregation upon completing a beautiful church within a very short period of time. At the end of his discourse, the Bishop appointed Rev. Vincent Matysiak, then pastor of St. Barbara's Church in Houtzdale, Pa., to be the first pastor of Holy Trinity Church.

Rev. Vincent Matysiak was born on the outskirts of Gniezno, Poland, in a small rural community called Roza, in 1868. After completing his elementary education in the provincial school in Gniezno, he came to this country to study for the Holy Priesthood. All of his higher education. including High School, College, and Philosophy he garnered at the Polish Seminary, presently in Orchard Lake, but at that time in Detroit, Michigan. After being adopted into the San Antonio Diocese in Texas, Vincent Matysiak completed his course of Theology in the diocesan seminary in Victoria, Texas. In 1899, he was ordained by the Most Rev. John Forest in Victoria, Texas. His first appointment was to Bandera. Texas, a Polish community, where he remained pastor for only a year. In 1900 he succeeded the pastor of the Immaculate Conception of Mary Church in Yorktown, Texas. Hearing of the dearth of priests in the ever more populated communities of Pennsylvania, he transferred to the Erie diocese, where he was appointed pastor of St. Barbara's Church in Houtzdale.

When on December 6, 1903. Father Matysiak was appointed pastor of Holy Trinity Church, he was in Holy Orders oily five years. The zeal and energy of his work, which was apparent in all his prior efforts, was made immediately evident in his new labors. He selected a church committee of three members - Mr. Adalbert Skibinski, Mr. Anthony Donikowski and Mr. Francis Nowak. Thereby, he gained the confidence of his people and consolidated his parishioners in a common effort. Much was yet to be done of necessity, and much more to be hoped for. There was no rectory and Father Matyslak lived in a home, which was fully two blocks away from the church. With the cooperation of his committee plans were evolved, whereby a combination school and rectory could be constructed for a minimum expenditure. The first plan presented a two story building at the estimated cost of $4,500.00. but the committee suggested that a small meeting hall could be constructed in the basement to serve as a parish hall. and in case of necessity could be used as an extra classroom. This change brought about the estimated cost of $6,000.00.

During the building of this school and rectory, Father Matysiak contributed both his time and his labor. When on September 10, 1904, this building was not only completed, but also furnished, great pride and satisfaction was commonly shared by the loving parishioners and their zealous pastor. The rectory and school consisted of ten spacious rooms with a large assembly hall in the basement. The living quarters were completely furnished, including an ultramodern bathroom with a new modern water heating equipment. This modern heating equipment, no one then realized, was to be the cause of a stunning catastrophe.

With the successful completion of the rectory, Father Matysiak decided to hold the first Mission in his church. Missionary Fathers were invited to conduct the mission, which opened on Oct. 3, 1904. At this time the most Rev. Bishop Fitzmaurice arrived to bless the new school and expressed joy and satisfaction at the progress made in such a short time. At the conclusion of the mission, which lasted one week, Father Matysiak held his first Forty Hour Devotion. He invited, as is customary, other priests of the diocese. On the evening of October 10, after evening devotions, leaving his guests, he expressed being fatigued would take a bath to refresh himself. When the pastor did not return for a long time, the visiting fathers expressed surprise, then suspicion. Upon investigating they found Father Matysiak, his bath completed and dressed, lying prone on the floor and gasping for air. All efforts to revive him failed. He died from monoxide poisoning at one o'clock. the 11th of October, 1904.

During the funeral on October 14. the Bishop offered Father S. E. Niedbalski charge of the parish. Since Father Niedbalski was a permanent pastor of Panna Maryja Church in Texas, and was absent only on sick leave, he explained his status to the Bishop. The Bishop effected the necessary transfer and appointed Father Niedbalski the second pastor of Holy Trinity Church on October 14, 1904.

Rt. Rev. Msgr. Severin Erasmus Niedbalski was born in Szurganicc, Poland, December 6, 1865. After completing his elementary education in the provincial school, upon request of his father, he entered the Military Academy at Potsdam. His University education was completed in the University of Breslau. Shortly after his graduation he was appointed to serve in an important military commission of the German Government. It was at this time that God revealed to him a calling to the Priesthood, and when the choice was made, he decided to work in a missionary country. In 1893 he migrated to the United States, where he resumed his theological studies in St .Mary's Seminary in Detroit, Michigan. He was adopted by Bishop John Forest into the diocese of San Antonio, Texas in 1896. On the 19th of April. 1808. he was ordained to the Holy Priesthood by Bishop John Forest in Victoria, Texas. After having served as pastor in a number of small parishes, he was appointed pastor of Panna Maria Church, the oldest Polish Church in the United States. Bedridden in 1903, he was ordered by doctors to seek a change of climate. Father Niedbalski obtained a sick leave of absence from his Bishop and came to the eastern seaboard, where he was acquainted with many of his schoolmates. After a leisurely stay in the New England States, he was returning to his duties. when he called upon his schoolmate. Father Matysiak, then pastor of Sl. Barbara's Church in Houtzdale. Father Matysiak knew of his appointment to Holy Trinity Church, and since there was no other Polish priest to take over his duties at Houtzdale, he requested Father Niedbalski to administer his parish until another priest could be supplied. With the approval of the Bishop, Father Niedbalski consented to this arrangement. Father Niedbalski stayed longer than he intended to stay, but since he was convalescing, and there was no urgent reason for him to return, there was no objection in his devoting his time to genuine priestly labors. On the occasion of Father Matysiak's first Forty Hour Devotion, Father Niedbalski was one of the invited guests. The unexpected death of Father Matysiak, his funeral, the request to take over the parish, these things happened so quickly and unexpectedly, that there was no time for deliberation, Father Niedbalski became the second pastor of Holy Trinity Church.

By expert financial administration the debts which were contracted during the building of the rectory and those which remained on the property were soon liquidated. A number of religious societies were founded, including the Holy Rosary Society, Our Lady's Sodality, Holy Name Society, and Holy Trinity Men's Society. A Youth Organization with a Drum and Bugle Corps was also organized, and later this developed into a patriotic and fraternal organization and consolidated with the Polish Falcons of America. Presently it represents the Polish Falcons Nest No. 123. All these societies had their beginning in the very first years of Father Niedbalski's labors.

Soon it was apparent that the school which was housed in the rectory and the teaching facilities were not adequate to cope with the ever increasing registration of school children. Professor Adalbert Prvba, who was at the same time an organist, devoted his time industriously, but the amount of work was not sufficient to meet the demands of increasing classrooms and increasing student body, John Grygier, the present member of the church committee was his first pupil, and he recalls the schoolmaster days and methods of Professor Pryba with no little gusto. A new school and an increase of teaching personnel became an absolute necessity. In 1909 Mr. Ladislaus Zwadzki from Buffalo, N.Y., presented to Father Niedbalski plans of a new school building. This building was to be modern, spacious to take care of all future needs, it was to have a large auditorium, and many classrooms. Father Niedbalski accepted this plan on May 26, 1909. excavations were started for the basement and foundations. On July 17, 1909. the cornerstone was laid. The complete cost of the present school building. including on two occasions necessary expansions of classrooms, runs well over $150.000.00. At thetime of construction only the first floor was furnished for immediate use. Later as expansion was necessary, the second floor was furnished in 1914, and the third floor was furnished and completed in 1928. On this last occasion there were more than 800 children in attendance.

In September of 1910 the Felician Sisters from Buffalo, N. Y., were asked to take charge of the newly completed school. Sister Mary Lucina was the first superior and the number of teaching sisters was three. With the coming of sisters a convent had to be provided. Conservative in his financial administration, Father Niedbalski could not permit at this time any further building expansion. So for the time being the old school was remodeled to serve as a convent for the sisters and efforts had to be made to acquire property to envisage a future rectory. The old rectory could be remodeled into a convent, and then the final plan of buildings would be disposed practically. Immediately adjoining the Holy Trinity property was a Baptist church, which property if acquired would give the Holy Trinity Parish an unbroken frontage, with the advantage of two corner lots on 22nd and 23rd and Reed Streets. After years of patient waiting this property was acquired on May 22, 1924, for the sum of  $19,000.00.

The masonry of the Baptist church was solidly constructed. Father Niedbalski decided that, this building could be remodeled into a rectory. The plans were submitted to Bishop John Mark Gannon and approved. On October 5, 1924, Kirschner Brothers Contractors began the necessary alterations. The exterior of the building was veneered with new brick, and the interior was completely remodeled and reconstructed. Sixteen large rooms, sleeping quarters for visiting priests to meet any emergency, studies for the pastor and assistant, visiting parlors and business offices, modern fixtures and plumbing, all these have been provided and will be sufficient for many years to come as a useful and convenient rectory. It was blessed and occupied on Holy Trinity Sunday, 1925.

As the expansion of the parish required more Masses on Sundays, the services of supply priests were enlisted. Missionary Fathers of Divine Word from Girard and, the Vincentian Fathers from St. John Kanty College labored in this field for many years. In October, 1915, Father Niedbalski was given for his assistant Rev. Thaddeus Napieralski, who remained until June of 1921.

Rev. Thaddeus Napieralski was born in Detroit, Michigan, May 15, 1890. He attended elementary school in St. Stanislaus Parish in Rochester, N. Y. His higher education was attained at Fordham University, New York City, St. Bernard's Seminary in Rochester, N. Y., and St. Cyril and Methodius Seminary in Orchard Lake, Michigan. He was ordained by Rt. Rev. John Fitzmaurice in St. Peter's Cathedral in Erie on June 17, 1915. Presently he is pastor at St. Barbara's Church in Houtzdale, Pa.

Rev. Casimir T. Nagorski was appointed assistant of Holy Trinity Church in June, 1928. He was born in Erie, Pa., September 4, 1901. He completed his grade school education in St. Stanislaus School in the city. His college and Theological education was obtained at SS Cyril and Methodius Seminary, Orchard Lake, Michigan, St. Bonaventure's College,  Allegheny, N. Y., and St. Mary's Seminary in Baltimore, Maryland. He was ordained to the Holy Priesthood in St. Joseph's Cathedral by the Most Rev. William Turner of Buffalo on June 2, 1928.

In June 1933, he was appointed pastor of St Adalbert's Church in Farrell, Pa., where he is presently pastor. In June, 1933, Rev. Joseph J. Cebelinski was appointed assistant at Holy Trinity Church. He was born in Erie, on July 4, 1908. He graduated from grade school in St. Stanislaus Parish. and attended the Cathedral Preparatory High School and College in this city. He made his Theological studies in Orchard Lake, Michigan, and in St. Mary's Seminary in Baltimore. Maryland. He was ordained to the Holy Priesthood by Most Rev. John Mark Gannon in St. Peter's Cathedral on May 26, 1933. He is presently serving as assistant in Holy Trinity Parish.

With the passing of years, the little frame church that serviced thousands of Poles in Holy Trinity parish for two generations, was beginning to show signs of old age. Attendance at four masses every Sunday crowded the church to capacity. It was imperative to build a new church. The parishioners made noble efforts, first to pay off the debts due on the property and new rectory, and secondly to raise the funds necessary for the building of a new church. The result of this wholehearted cooperation was the final realization of a new church. On Saturday, May 30, 1940, Father Niedbalski accompanied by Architect G. W. Stickle presented his plans for a new stone edifice to Bishop John Mark Gannon. The cost of this building was then estimated at $80,000,000. His Excellency approved the plans and permission was granted on condition that a collateral of $40,000,000 could be raised in cash before the completion of the new church. With this collateral a loan of $40,000.00 could be made. The parish at this time had some twenty thousand dollars toward their goal and with infinite effort and sacrifice another twenty thousand dollars were raised before the building was completed.

It was then, with great joy, that Father Niedbalski and the parishioners of Holy Trinity took part in the services of April 6, 1940. when the ground for the the new church was broken. A number of priests assisted on this occasion: Rev. Dr. Ladislaus J. Stanczak, Rev. Stephen Dlugolecki, Rev Stephen Katarzynski, Rev. Louis Kozlowski, Rev. Albin Ziomek, Rev. Sigismund Piotrowski, and Rev. Joseph J. CebeIinski. The Architect G. W. Stickle and the General Contractor J. E. Kirsch were also present at the ceremony. Many societies and all the school children attended Mass and partook in the services.

On October 27, 1940. His Excellency John Mark Gannon laid the cornerstone. Thousands of people lined the streets to witness the procession and the ceremony of laying the cornerstone. The masonry of the church was already completed and seeing this expert work, the parishioners had a foretaste of what to expect when the church was completed. During the ceremonies, Rev. Stephen Cauley acted as Deacon and Rev. Stephen Dlugolecki as sub­deacon, Rev. Joseph Cebelinski assistant, as master of ceremonies. Sermons were delivered in Polish by Rev. Michael Sadowski and in English by Rev. Francis Coughlin.

Within a year the new edifice was being completed. The church committee was called in conference frequently. Their time and labors were of untold assistance to Father Niedbalski. The signing of all contracts the perusal of all plans, important decisions concerning new furnishings, methods of raising necessary funds, finally the whole program of dedication, all these important contributions were work of the church committee. This committee consisted of Mr. Isadore Masarek, who did not live to see his work completed, Dr. Felix Shubert. Mr. Roman Walentowski, Mr. John Grygier, and Mr. John Grenberg.

The Feast of the Most Holy Trinity was set aside as the date most appropriate for the dedication of the new Holy Trinity Church. After the early Masses, societies, school children, representatives of local and national organizations, altar boys, and many curious visitors gathered in their appointed places. Indeed it was a pageant of many colors and costumes that promptly at ten o'clock marched in procession to the front portals of the new church, where His Excellency, Bishop John Mark Gannon performed the customary ceremony of blessing the exterior of the church and officially opened the doors to the public. Then the members of various societies, the invited guests, and all parishioners who could find standing room, filed into the church where the blessing of the interior was continued. At the conclusion of the episcopal functions, Rt. Rev. Msgr. Niedbalski celebrated the first Solemn High Mass, His Excellency participating in Capa Magna. The sermon was preached in English by the Rev. Stephen Cauley, pastor of St. Patrick's Church: the sermon in Polish was delivered by Rev. Ladislaus Brejski of Buffalo, N. Y. Officers of Mass were Rev. Francis Robaczewski, deacon; Rev. John Mieczkowski, sub-deacon; Rev. Joseph Cebelinski, master of ceremonies. Among priests present for this occasion were: Rt. Rev. Msgr. Andrew Garstka, Rt. Rev. Msgr. John Hiebel, Rev. Dr. Ladielaus Stanczak, Rev. Stephen DlugoJecki, Rev. Edward Fischer, Rev. Mellitus Schamberger, Rev. Joseph Schwarz, Rev. Louis Marino, Rev. Stephen Meko, Rev. Joseph Kacprowicz, Rev. Francis Coughlin, Rev. Louis Kozlowski, Rev. Philip Herrmann, Rev. Michael Klukacaewski. Rev. Anthony Robaczewski, and many others whose presence was an edification to the parishioners of Holy Trinity Church.

In the evening the last services were held in the old church. So sincere was this farewell to a temple which served well in the service to God, that many a tear glistened on the cheeks of those present. This last parting recalled to their minds memories of important incidents in their lives; in this church they were baptized; here they received their first Holy Communion; here they knelt before the altar at God and solemnly made their marriage vows; here from this church their parents, friends, possibly brothers and sisters were buried. So then, when the Blessed Sacrament was taken in procession to the new church, to mark the last liturgical function of the old, a turbulent riot of joy and sorrow surged in their souls.

With the passing of the old church and the dedication of the new temple, the history of Holy Trinity Parish reached a climax. History is the record of events and persons in the march of time to eternity. Many, who have labored and sacrificed for this cause, never lived to see this great occasion. Looking from Heaven their hearts were overjoyed with ours. Others, living, who labored and sacrificed. although their deeds and names may not have been recorded here, have a lasting memorial of their labors in the new church, and may God bless their noble sacrifice in this life, and in the life of eternity to come.

Rev. Joseph Cebelinski

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Last Updated on January 20, 2013